Years ago we contacted André Durand because he painted a beautiful painting about San Pio and the wolf of Gubbio.
Long e-mails and long talks created this, according to us, beautiful interview and good friendship. A portion of it (the one regarding San Pio and the wolf of Gubbio) was released in Il Corriere dell'Umbria and Tutto Gubbio.
Mr Durand where were you born? May tell us something about your childhood and studies? Your family was rich of creative people?
I was born in Canada of French/Irish parents, both Catholic. Both my mother and father were passionate about painting and music. They worked together as amateur artists and designed theatre productions.
When did you start to feel interest for painting?
I can remember first painting around the age of four a picture of a pirate and I have never stopped painting since then.
You have portrayed many famous men. Can you tell us some anecdotes, if there are about Papa Giovanni Paolo II and the Dalai Lama?
I had three sittings with John Paul II in the Vatican in 1982. The third sitting was required because I had some difficulty deciding on the pose. At the end of this last audience, the Holy Father turned to me and said 'André, I hope you get it right this time.'
The first time the Dalai Lama posed for me at the Convent of San Anselmo I was too shy to ask him to remove his spectacles. But the second time he posed in Strasbourg in 1989 I had a little more confidence. I then asked him to remove his glasses, to which he laughed and gave me a hug and asked why I didn't ask him to do so the first time.
I read you live in London now. Why this choice?
I live in London, Tuscany and Greece, but my base is in London, because everything and everyone an artist like me needs for inspiration can be found here. I have no doubt that Greece and Italy are the source of Western art, but London is the ideal place to me to assimilate this beauty and distill it into pictures.
Your paintings are mostly allegorical. There is one I love very much because of the colors you use, THE RED HORSE OF STRIFE, but it is an execution. Can you tell us why there is apparently a lot of joy in this painting? (I am writing this considering of course the colors you used for painting, incredibly beauty!)
THE RED HORSE OF STRIFE is meant to remind us of the executions in Liberia that took place on the beach after the revolution, and is symbolic of the horrors of civil war. The vibrant colours were chosen to balance the horror of the subject. The last place I had never imagined executions to take place was on a white sandy beach, which I had associated with idyllic holidays in the Peloponnese.
What kind of technique do you use mostly? Your favorite colors can we find in your paintings?
All my paintings are oil on linen, and I use heavily grained canvas such as was used in Venice in the 15th and 16th centuries. I love all colours, but choose different ones for different pictures to make the image more psychologically penetrating. For example reds can suggest passion or violence. If I had to choose ONE colour it would be blue, any shade of blue.
How much important is for you the fantasy? And what kind of subject do you love to portraying the most?
Any kind of religious subject matter inspires to me. At the moment I've been concentrating on Christian myths from the Gospels and The Golden Legend setting these sacred legends in the English landscape of today.
I prefer the word myth - or mythic - than fantasy, which usually results in the sort of painting I don't like, such as Surrealism, whereas my own base as an artist is in 15th 16th and 17th century Italian painting.
What's the most important factor of inspiration of your work?
The spiritual dimension: to find the relevance of eternal human values and depict them in a way that illuminates the present condition.
Padre Pio and the wolf of Gubbio: why these two religious symbols in a portrait, and what does the cross close to them mean? The birds are just observing the scene of pacification operated by Padre Pio? And why the other monk? He has an ironical expression...perhaps he doesn't believe that the Saint tamed the wolf. Please, can you explain us this portrait?
The story of Padre Pio and the wolf comes from the book The Little Flowers of Saint Francis of Assisi by Ugolino di Monte Santa Maria. The picture combines two of the stories. The birds form the cross to express God's blessing on the taming of the fierce wolf of Gubbio. Padre Pio and St Francis are in this picture one and the same monk, two very mystical Franciscans. The other monk is Brother Leo, a friend of St Francis.
I think your reading of Padre Pio/St Francis’ expression is charming, but it was not intended that way. Incidentally, the monk that posed for brother Leo is a Franciscan monk and friend of mine who lives in a tiny monastery in the Outer Hebrides with 3 other monks. Did you notice, Anna Maria, that between 1999 and 2002 I did 7 pictures inspired by Padre Pio.
Why Padre Pio is so important to you, and which is according to you the message he wants to spread to the world?
The message of Padre Pio at this time would definitely speak to the madness of US foreign policy. Perhaps that is why he appeared to so many American pilots in the sky during the war.
Why is it so important to remembering the wolf of Gubbio in our times?
It seems to me the best way to stop violence is with gentleness and following the Christian message of turning the other cheek; the story of St Francis and the wolf is a perfect example of this principle, gentleness subduing aggression.
André you have also painted a lot of times Lady Diana, a myth to me. Please can you tell us something about her?
Diana had the kind of beauty, sensibility and sensitivity to be anything in a picture - a goddess, a mother – she could fulfill all the female archetypal roles. Also the aspect I appreciated most about her beauty, aside from her ideal proportions – long limbed, small head - was her absolutely perfect profile. For some reason she always reminded me of Simonetta Vespucci, as we discover her in the paintings of Botticelli.
I did indeed know Diana. Diana was a patron of picture I painted for the charity Crusaid, a British AIDS charity. In fact we were neighbours both living in Kensington, and had several friends in common.
The first picture of Diana was MYSTIC MARRIAGE, painted for her wedding in 1981.
The second, for which she posed, was BONZER SHEILA, in 1987. The picture was commissioned by Speedo
The third was VOTIVE OFFERING. Diana was the honorary member on the picture’s Committee. The picture commemorates her work for AIDS charities.
The next, DIANA, was painted immediately after her death. The lilies in the picture are those that adorned her coffin. It expresses my sense of grief at the loss of my muse.
The allegorical FORTUNA was painted in 2000.
While we were realizing the interview André talked to us of another project, that time in progress....it was march 2007...
I am currently, and unexpectedly, painting two life sized allegorical portraits of the actor Daniel Radcliffe, better known as Harry Potter. Is Harry Potter popular in Italy? The pictures are inspired by Radcliffe's performance in Equus, Peter Schaffer’s 1973 play and must be finished by the end of April.
What kind of hobbies have you got, apart painting?
I take photographs when I travel of everything and every person that inspires me.
Last summer I took some wonderful pictures in Ischia and Naples. I am a passionate lover of the opera, ballet and theatre, in that order. That is another reason why I live in London. We have a wealth of cultural events and diversity here.
Have you never been in Gubbio? If yes, what did you appreciate of Gubbio and when did you visit the city? Will you come back soon or late? What do you think of our Umbria?
I went to Gubbio in 1990, because at the time, when I was living in Tuscany, I was reading The Little Flowers of Saint Francis of Assisi. I wanted to see the place that inspired the story. And of course I will come back to the city, I hope sooner rather than later. I always miss Italy and perhaps one day Gubbio will see this picture in reality.
I have always been inspired by the timeless beauty and even light of the Umbrian landscape, which he first encountered in Raphael’s paintings. He does not find it much changed since the time Raphael painted it.
Grazie! André. From the bottom of our heart.
Anna Maria Polidori